Monthly Archives: December 2020

Hyphenated Compounds

The Vexed Question of Hyphenated Compounds (UK Usage)

I was recently asked for advice by a client on how to approach hyphenation. What he actually meant was what we call hyphenated compounds, when two separate words are joined together. This is an area of writing where we all hesitate from time to time, or choose to blunder on regardless. The confusing thing is that while there are some basic rules you can quickly assimilate, there are also a lot of word compounds which can be hyphenated, written out as two words or even just plain joined together. Where do we begin?

First port of call

One thing I must clarify for the reader is that this is aimed at British writers for the time being, so if you are in the US or elsewhere, feel free to carry on but you might like to re-Google now!

The simplest way forward is to check in a dictionary. Be aware, however, that different dictionaries can give different information. Collins and Longman are perhaps the most up-to-date (or ‘up to date’ – yes, there’s a choice sometimes!) with hyphens, tending not to show the ones less in use these days. The online Collins dictionary will sometimes (but not always) give you the two versions if a word compound can use both. I usually type in both versions and one or the other either appears or it doesn’t. The important thing is, whichever you choose, be consistent! My job as a proofreader is to check for consistency and I wouldn’t immediately spring to delete a hyphen, unless any of the principles given later were violated!

Here are a few examples of compounds which can take both, or even fuse into one word:

TWO WORDS HYPHENATED ONE WORD
air conditioning air-conditioning
common sense common-sense (adj.) commonsense
co-operate cooperate
dish cloth dishcloth
fish and chip fish-and-chip
half way half-way halfway

For whole article click here.